Is there anything to be gained by relighting Bancroft’s smouldering sandpaper?

We have all moved on from one of cricket’s greatest scandals, haven’t we? Not least because the world has thrown in humanity’s collective path something that has put into true perspective all aspects of everyday life, politics and indeed sport. Looking back to open old wounds and deepen recriminations, seems to be energy that could be better spent in healing and rebuilding.

This week, Cameron Bancroft, the man caught at Cape Town in 2018 with the smoking sandpaper, has again fielded questions about the events of that dark day under South African sun.

Don’t worry, this article is not going to re-hash history. We all know what happened.

Bancroft was the patsy. He got caught and punished. Steve Smith and David Warner, the chief instigators, were very publicly shamed and served their time too. Were this Line of Duty, Darren Lehman may have been ‘H’ the fourth man, but stepped aside from his role to dodge the flack.

Cricket Australia has acknowledged that “sandpaper gate” was the straw that broke the back of a camel already buckling from the weight of an unhealthy “win at all costs” culture. A change of captain and a new culture of “elite honesty’ has been a worthy attempt to move forward; even if a few cracks have appeared here and there, at least Australia can see and openly acknowledge them.

The Guardian’s interview this week with Bancroft, conducted as he prepares to don several jumpers and face the inclement Chester-le-Street chills with Durham, is disarmingly honest. Movingly so, in fact. Bancroft, claims he is “almost grateful for the mistake” he made because it turned him into a better and more reflective person. He also opens up about the pressures placed upon himself by a desperate desire to succeed.

Perhaps ironically, the 77 he scored in the first Cape Town innings, was, in his own words, “the best innings I’ve probably played in any form of cricket. I scored in a lot of different areas, hit [14] boundaries and felt able to put pressure on the South African bowlers. Off the front and the back foot, I felt really good even though we struggled to build partnerships. It was a great confidence boost against quality bowling. Rabada, Philander, [Morkel]”. Yet, as we know, on the back of this best innings, Bancroft’s world came crashing down and the cricket world felt the reverberations.

There is, though, genuine, open, dare one say “elite honesty” in Bancroft’s assessment of himself and his actions in that match.

“I invested too much to the point where I lost control of my values. What had become important to me was being liked, being well-valued, feeling really important to my team-mates, like I was contributing something by using sandpaper on a cricket ball. That’s something I don’t think I even understood until that mistake happened. But it’s part of the journey and a hard lesson I needed to learn.”

Eloquently and humbly put by Bancroft and let any of us that is without sin cast any further stones in his direction. Were that the end of the interview, there would be compassionate respect and acknowledgement from most of us and little more to add.

However, it wasn’t the end and Bancroft faced insistent probing on the knowledge and involvement of others in the sandpaper scandal, notably Australia’s bowlers, who have all escaped censure thus far.

“Yeah, look, all I wanted to do was to be responsible and accountable for my own actions and part. Yeah, obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory. I guess one thing I learnt through the journey and being responsible is that’s where the buck stops [with Bancroft himself]. Had I had better awareness I would have made a much better decision.”

Bancroft honourably takes it all upon himself, acknowledging that common sense suggests that others must have been “in” on it, but it is not his place to rat on them. A decent and well-articulated stance. But like a lion looking to bring down its limping prey, the interviewer continued to press the point.

“Uh … yeah, look, I think, yeah, I think it’s pretty probably self-explanatory,” is the next response, seeming to sate the interviewer’s thirst for blood and allowing Cameron to finally move on to discuss his journey of enlightenment and personal redemption.

Common sense does indeed suggest that as a bowler, when a doctored ball is placed in your hand, then you know about it. The bigger moral question is whether, right now in the world, there is anything to be gained by proving the guilt of those bowlers.

Examples have already been made of the prime instigators. Captain Smith, vice-captain Warner and cabin boy Bancroft went down with the ship, whilst others clambered into life boats. Nobody died. Lessons were learned and actions taken.

For this author, it is time to move on and energy spent proving what frankly is as obvious as the nose on one’s face really cannot have any further useful purpose.

Jingle by Jeff Perkins

Broadcast Schedule

England v West Indies 2024
ENG v WI 3rd Test, Edgbaston
26th July to 30th July
Start time: 11:00 am BST